The Memo: Can any Republican defeat Trump and DeSantis?
(NewsNation) — The 2024 election is almost two years away, but it’s already an open question whether anyone other than former President Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis can become the GOP’s nominee.
Trump and DeSantis have raced out to an early lead over all other possible contenders, despite the fact that the former president is the only major figure to have declared his candidacy.
The dynamic is so striking that some conservatives are talking of the contest as a two-horse race.
“Right now, it looks like the 2024 GOP nominee is going to be a Floridian — the only question is whether it is going to be President Trump or Gov. DeSantis,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “Based on their resources, their name ID, their support, it is essentially their nomination to lose.”
Boosters for other possible contenders push back hard against this idea. But the polls make clear how much Trump and DeSantis overshadow the rest of the possible field.
A Harvard CAPS-Harris poll conducted last week found Trump with 46% support among Republican voters and DeSantis with 28%. The third-placed candidate — former Vice President Mike Pence — trailed far behind at 7%.
The figures vary from poll to poll, but the overall dynamic stays the same.
An Emerson College poll released Nov. 19 put Trump at 55%, DeSantis at 25% and, again, Pence in third place but in single digits, at 8%.
It is not yet certain that DeSantis will enter the race. He has offered fewer direct hints than other contenders that he will do so.
But that may be because he is in a position of strength and doesn’t need to stoke expectations.
DeSantis was the big winner among GOP heavyweights on Election Day, coasting to reelection by roughly 20 points over his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist. He has not been shy about suggesting that his approach in Florida could be a template for Republicans across the nation.
If DeSantis does run, money won’t be a problem. The governor had around $90 million cash on hand even in the closing stages of his reelection race, spread across various accounts. He is also the recipient of a lot of admiration from conservative megadonors who have grown tired of Trump’s antics.
A Politico story in early November described DeSantis returning to Florida from Nevada during the summer holding a $10 million check from a real estate magnate, Robert Bigelow.
Hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin said at a Bloomberg event in Singapore earlier this month he would back DeSantis too — and called Trump a “three-time loser” from whom the GOP needs to “move on.” Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has already given more than $200,000 to DeSantis’s super PAC.
Of course, it’s not as if Trump will be under-resourced. His own war chest, across different groups, is in the ballpark of $100 million — though there will be, at least in theory, restraints on how some of that money can be spent now that the former president is an official candidate.
The financial firepower of Trump and DeSantis also makes clear to other contenders just how high the 2024 table stakes are likely to be.
That said, several other leading figures in the party appear poised to move forward.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley told a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition last weekend that she was looking at a 2024 campaign “in a serious way.” Haley, who had previously pledged not to run if Trump did so, said, “I’ve never lost an election, and I’m not going to start now.”
At the same event, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joked that the next time some of the contenders might meet could be on a debate stage. “Who knows what nicknames we might have?” he added in a mild jab at Trump.
Pompeo has been more overt than most in laying the groundwork for a presidential run, including visiting key states like Iowa and New Hampshire, and running digital ads.
Meanwhile, Pence too seems to be edging toward a run, acknowledging he is considering such a move and asserting in more than one interview that he expects the GOP to have “better choices” than Trump in 2024.
The question of how any of these candidates get past Trump and DeSantis isn’t easily answered.
But some within the GOP argue it’s perfectly possible for these figures, or a dark horse candidate, to break through.
“Of course!” said GOP pollster Glen Bolger. “We just don’t know who it is yet. There is always somebody who gets hot. That doesn’t mean they last, but as the campaign unfolds somebody makes a run. That’s just the tradition.”
On the other side of the aisle, there are some Democrats who believe there are other Republicans beyond the top two who could make a serious run.
“The guy I would worry about, as a Democrat, is Glenn Youngkin,” said Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh.
Longabaugh argued that the Virginia governor “is a much more personable guy (than DeSantis). I think he sells better in the early states. And he has navigated a much tougher state winning the governorship in Virginia than DeSantis did in Florida.”
For now, though, Trump and DeSantis are standing way above everyone else on the Republican side.
The rest of the possible field is struggling just to escape their shadow.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.